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Masdar scientists in solar triumph

Researchers double amount of energy from solar cells

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The project is worth US $1.8mn
The project is worth US $1.8mn

Scientists working on a US $1.8mn research project have almost doubled the amount of energy obtained from solar cells.

Researchers from Masdar Institute of Science and Technology made the breakthrough by constructing the cells using the chemical element germanium mixed with the usual silicon.

"Germanium has better optical properties for solar cells than silicon," said Dr Ammar Nayfeh, an assistant professor in microsystems engineering at the institute and head of the project.

"The electrons move faster in germanium so you can actually get more current with it. The project was launched in 2011 with the aim to provide smaller, faster and less power-hungry devices by optimising the capture of solar energy. We showed that by incorporating germanium in our solar cells, we could exploit more of the sun's radiation," Dr Nayfeh said.

"There's some kind of distance called the band-gap and the smaller that band-gap is, the more current we can get out of it," Dr Nayfeh said.

"A lot of the sun comes through and gets wasted so this allows more efficiency."

Germanium has also proven to absorb a lot more light than other materials, which means smaller quantities can be used. Masdar Institute has so far conducted its experimental work at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Boston and Bilkent University in Turkey, but its own 300-square-metre clean room is almost ready for use.

"It's now ramping up," Dr Nayfeh said. "We're at the point of setting up the experiments, getting trained, students are now developing the process here.
"Just recently, we fabricated a working thin-film solar cell at Masdar for the first time. We've also added gold nano-particles on top of the solar cells that further enhances the solar current achieved."

Dr Nayfeh and his team will spend the next few months developing the clean room. "It's going to be a lab where we can do experiments with tools comparable to Stanford and MIT," he said. "It can be used by any UAE university and it'll be a UAE-centric clean room," he said.

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